This is an article from the January-February 1991 issue: The State of the World

That Ishmael Might Live Under His Blessing

That Ishmael Might Live Under His Blessing

About 2000 BC: Abraham, the friend of God, cries out in prayer for his son Ishmael to live under God's blessing.

AD 610: Mohammed, a descendant of Ishmael, proclaims himself a prophet of the One true God--thus paving the way to become the founder of Islam.

Boasting almost a billion adherents, Islam is the largest non- Christian religion in the world today. One out of every five persons living on the earth is a Muslim. Perhaps more significantly, about 35% of all unreached people groups are dominantly Muslim.

Thirty-seven countries contain a Muslim majority. The governments of these countries also embrace Islam, establishing it as the state religion. As such, access by a Christian witness into such nations is restricted--and Islam continues to remain dominant.

However, Islam is also found in all other parts of the world. Indeed, about 25 additional nations have Muslim minorities representing over 10% of the countries' populations. Many more have significant Islamic populations which are lower than 10%.

Islam is a disconcertingly massive force, and it is steadily growing-- although this is partly due to a comparatively high birthrate. But Islam is also claiming many new converts for a number of reasons:

  1. Islam is a very simplistic religion. The only thing one need do to convert to Islam is to whole-heartedly recite the creed, "There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His Prophet." There are only six major doctrines; belief in one God; in angels; in the Holy Books-- including parts of both Testaments as well as the Quran; in the prophets--among whom are Jesus and Mohammed; in a day of judgment; and in predestination. The five practices of Islam are external and equally simple to learn.
  2. Islam is a very adaptable religion. It has contextualized itself into literally hundreds of various cultures. Since there is nothing in Islam contradicting the existence of a spirit world, it has easily absorbed the animistic world views and practices of peoples to whom it was brought. In fact, even today, the vast majority of Muslims embrace such "folk Islam."
  3. Islam is also a zealously "evangelistic" religion. The purpose of Muslims is to win the Western world to Islam. If you think that can't happen, think again. Some areas evangelized by Paul are now firmly under the sway of Islam. So are the cities of Istanbul (once Constantinople) and Alexandria, both once thriving centers of Christianity.

Muslims are willing to do whatever it may take to win the world. Billions of oil dollars are available to Muslim "evangelists." Many adherents of Islam are willing to relocate themselves to non-Muslim areas for as long as it takes to Islamicize the country. And Muslim missionaries are beginning to think strategically.

In order to better understand the state of Islam, perhaps it would be profitable to examine three very different regions.

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace and guardian of Islam. Known as the most staunchly conservative Muslim country in the world, it is the home of two of Islam's most holy cities--Mecca and Medina. Recently it has been immersed in crisis; the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Operation Desert Shield and now Desert Storm have thrust the formerly isolated country into the world's limelight.

In some ways, the effects of the media coverage of the crisis have been quite negative. Biased journalism seems to have reinforced a tendency of Westerners (even Christians) to look upon Muslims as uneducated, backward terrorists. Muslims strongly sense this attitude of prejudice from people they assume to be Christian. Says one American Muslim, "Because some Christians massacre, are all Christians murderers? Even if Hussein says he's Muslim and he's the leader of all Muslims, for anyone to link Islam to him is unfair."

Reports of the spiritual effects of the headlong collision of Muslim and "Christian" cultures are mixed. There are reports of the salvation of scores of refugees from Iraq to the area of Amman, Jordan. We should praise God for such conversions. However, according to Robert Douglas, executive director of the Zwemer Institute of Muslim Studies, these new believers are not all Iraqis and not necessarily even Muslims. Instead they are expatriate Filipinos, for example, who have fled the country. On the other hand, Muslim sources promote unconfirmed reports that some 100 American troops--black and white--have converted to Islam.

However, there are truly encouraging signs as well. There are clusters of believers now within Saudi borders. In addition, Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, despite the negative press generated, at least have finally focussed the attention of Christians on the long-neglected Middle East.

Northern and Western Africa
Africa has long been a focus of Muslim attention--to the extent that, according to Islamic sources, in one recent year Muslims spent more to promote missionary activity in eight North African countries than the total Western missionary expenditure for the entire world.

We Christians don't seem to be doing our part in trying to stop the spread of Islam. A study of one Nigerian mission agency showed that, of 650 full-time Christian workers in Nigeria and surrounding countries, only 65 were working with Muslims. This must be taken in context with the report that a former Muslim recently revealed Islamic plans to eliminate Christianity in Nigeria.

However, the news is not all bad. There are 30,000 Muslims in one West African country who are known to have become believers in Jesus within the past few years.

The United States of America
Unknown to many American Christians, there are now three to six million in America, approaching 2% of the total population, who embrace Islam. This figure does not represent only immigrant Muslims, either; many American-born converts, white as well as black, are included.

This is perhaps not surprising, considering the effort put into the task by Muslims. It is their stated goal to win 50 to 75 million Americans, regardless of what it may take to do so. Recently, 50 million Saudi dollars were earmarked for missionary effort in the United States. So the numbers grow--perhaps largely due to our own apparent indifference.

The picture can appear grim--but there is light on the horizon! Encouraging signs are apparent which indicate that a great harvest in the Muslim world is at hand.

More attention is now being given to Muslims. There are more publications beginning to print accurate information about Islam. More seminars, mission conferences, and schools are beginning to focus attention on giving practical training to reaching Muslims. Individual churches as well as denominations are starting to fund specifically Muslim outreaches. More people planning to be missionaries are committing themselves to work in the world of Islam.

However, we need to do more. We need to put as much effort into winning Muslims as they put into winning us. Muslims are required to pray five times daily. What if a million Christians (less than two percent of the estimated evangelical American population) were to pray five times a day for breakthroughs in Islam? Muslims are to give two and a half percent of their income in alms. What if a million American Christians were to allocate 2.5% of their earnings to Muslim evangelization? At least $375 million would be released to the cause. What if a million Christians were willing to live in Muslim cultures for as long as it takes to win their Muslim neighbors? It would place 25 to 100 good-sized teams in every Muslim people!

Four thousand years ago, Abraham cried out for God's blessing to come upon Ishmael. As his spiritual descendants, dare we do any less?


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